On a walk to the gym, I pause to count how many police pass a specific abandoned storefront in ten minutes’ time.
Five police officers in three cars, in case you were wondering.
The next day, duties associated with my job require me to drive to Point Loma. Off North Harbor Drive a detour delivers me to Cancer Survivors Park. This is the ugliest park in San Diego, without contest. After parking my laughable Korean car, I approach the north end of the park and enter the concrete pad, encircled by 12-foot-high, or maybe taller, stucco sculptures. They jut from the sidewalk in the shape of lipstick tubes, mimicking the slant at the tip, and the giant stucco lipsticks display a color of purple so repulsive as to be a near emetic.
A short distance away from the giant purple lipsticks, statues of bronze and an oddly squared vortex of bronze-colored plaster depict a literal, sentimental scene in which the bronze people step through the vortex. Into one side of the vortex-of-cancer-treatment hobble the sickly, the old, the frail, the too-young. Out the other side of the vortex-of-cancer-treatment spring spryly the light loafers, lifting aloft a young, healthy man. Apparently, the forces of the oddly square vortex-of-cancer-treatment invigorate your health, make you male, and add a certain soft quality and angle to your wrists.
Don’t cancer survivors deserve better? After all that chemotherapy, after rebuilding a life struck down by disease, to come here and be faced with this as your celebration: to all cancer survivors, I would like to apologize for San Diego’s Cancer Survivors Park. Boy, is it ugly.
I’m sure that the artists, architects, donors, and contractors of the project would argue that it is a perfectly beautiful offering to San Diego’s artscape and public parks program. Please, don’t notice the literal message, or that at 5’9’’ in work boots I tower over every figure depicted. I’m not tall by any means, but the statues are a head shorter than me, and yet not quite miniaturized either. Disregard the shaky construction of the vortex, please. And while we’re playing peek-a-boo with the obvious flaws of this public space, I’m sure all involved with its erection would prefer you ignore the misspellings, incorrect punctuation, and poor grammar of the surrounding plaques that explain cancer’s best hope: a healthy spirit and treatment options.
If you ever get the chance, please go to the eastern end of Spanish Landing to see this monstrosity, Cancer Survivors Park. And while you’re there, notice that the group of statues near the vortex-of-cancer-treatment is marred and incomplete. Vandals have torn down one of the statues, broken it off at the ankle, leaving only the empty capsule of a dainty bronze shoe that looks to have belonged to a young girl. I’m not normally into such violent public destruction, but in this case, I agree with the vandal.
The Area of Opportunity
Choosing targets. How you choose your targets for vandalism speaks to what kind of person you are. Kids who run and scribble their names scattershot across the face of the city have their reasons for doing so. They indiscriminately deface street signs, freeway overpasses, private homes, and small businesses just to seize an opportunity. A Magic Marker in their pocket, or a can of spray paint in a backpack, needs no more justification to spring out and mar a public surface than the void of a couple of seconds in which no people, traffic, or police are present. Headlights die down, a quick check around corners, and zang! the tagger strikes.
I’m not a tagger. There’s nothing in my rocket-pop artwork that denotes identity, no signature at all.
I’m doing this as an experiment in public art, interacting with the city, so I choose my spots with care.
I load up my canvas shopping bag of supplies into my car, pull out from the safety and comfort of my darkened residential street and onto the bright glitz and electric light of El Cajon Boulevard. This is only a dry run. I haven’t cooked the wheat paste, and I’ll do nothing illegal on this drive. I’m merely scouting with a load-out of equipment to find appropriate marks and to feel how I want to handle the bag of equipment.
I drive up El Cajon, west toward the center of the city, scanning empty lots and the foreboding, temporary plywood walls of a vacated gas station. Staring into a pit of impending economic recession, the darkened yards of empty shops may portend harsher times still. The renovation and renaissance that transformed Hillcrest and the west end of North Park will not reach City Heights this year, and El Cajon feels bleak and cold.
I take the 15 south to University and exit west. My headlights blare over dilapidated automotive garages and the hand-painted, misspelled business signs of tire shops and dulcerias, Mexican candy shops. Even though I consider these buildings repulsive, splashed in the most garish of yellows and purples, I would never paste paper to one of their walls. These are mom-and-pop operations that from day-to-day need more customers and fewer distractions and problems; a poster would only deflate their spirits as they arrived to face their day of work.
I pass a corporate fast-food sandwich shop. They too are hideous in my sight — this particular franchise has floated a yellow balloon, brashly emblazoned with a logo; it hovers in the skyline, lighted from beneath, the size of an inflated studio apartment — I won’t paper them either, because as much as I disagree with their business practices and nutritional philosophy, I can’t support vigilantism, even with poster art. Corporate coffee shops on the street get my pass too. I will not strike back with graffiti, even though I dislike a particular establishment. Besides, a shop manager beholden to a national chain will rip my art down within minutes of its discovery; I want my posters to stay up for a while to cheer weary passersby.